As a way of staying motivated to ride longer distances through the winter I am riding a Randonneur every month. This is a ride of a minimum of 200km in twelve consecutive months. Riding from November to February is particularly difficult. The start and finish of the ride are likely to be in the dark. Weather is often bad. Riding in cold temperatures with strong wind is arduous. Road conditions are bad – lots of mud and gravel and this year floods. Winter conditions are hard on the rider but also hard on the bike so mechanical problems are more likely.
January’s route for the Randonneur was a circuit from Winterborne Abbas just west of Dorchester. By heading east for about 90km the route would be much flatter than the local roads so reducing riding time and keeping riding in the dark to a minimum.
After Christmas it took a few rides to build up sufficient fitness but after a tough 100km to bag my AAA points for January I decided to try for the 200km on Monday 20th January. I was a bit disorganised and started late – 07:00. I had forgotten my overshoes and the roads along the Frome Valley at the start were flooded. It was very cold – I was cold. I got to Poole and bought a couple of pairs of socks at Lidl which fixed my cold feet. The harbour looked tropical in the morning light
From Sandbanks I set off along the seafront. After the recent storms, there was a lot of sand on the esplanade
making the going very slow but also clogging up my drivetrain with sand. I left the sea front and found a route on the overcliff but the damage was done.
I continued with the route to Lymington
and through the New Forest before heading back west when on a small hill at 142km my chain broke. There was other damage and problems with the rear derailleur caused by the sand so although I managed to fix the chain I was not able to continue riding.
Tuesday was spent with Toby at Pedals and Paddles sorting my Thorn Audax bike. A new cassette and chain and work to straighten the rear mech and a very buckled rear wheel were the main jobs. When the old cassette came off damage to several spokes was revealed but not considered to be a problem and I was determined to ride this bike the next day.
The weather forecast for Wednesday 22nd January was very good. Dry, sunny and light winds. I was more organised and was riding just after 06:00. The bike felt really good with its new drivetrain and as day broke over Bournemouth I was really beginning to enjoy the ride.
This time I avoided sand and had the GPS routed along roads just inland. This worked very well – just one pedestrian bridge and a flight of steps at Boscombe to negotiate. It was a lovely day and I enjoyed the fine views from the overcliff. Heading towards Hengistbury Head in the sunshine there was an ominous bang from the rear and the bike became increasingly difficult to pedal. I stopped expecting a puncture. No such luck. A spoke had broken and the wheel had become a very funny shape making it unrideable. Luckily I was only a couple of miles from Bournemouth railway station and was able to get home easily.
The weather over the next few days was shocking but Monday 27th was looking mainly dry but with a strong westerly wind. For the third attempt of the January RRTY, Steve, my cycling buddy, had agreed to come along even though he hadn’t done a long ride since October. I agreed to pick him up at 05:30. The alarm went off at 04:45. From the warm comfort of my bed I could hear the wind howling but even worse there was rain drumming against the window. On closer inspection it was stiff rain – sleet. This was not good news! I put on an extra thermal top, made sure I had a beanie, buff and thin thermal gloves for an extra layer on my hands and off we went. I was riding my old Dawes Galaxy as the Thorn Audax still didn’t have a rear wheel. It was still raining at 05:55 when we started riding. There was no moon so it was very dark. The lanes have a few pot holes and I hit one – only a small one – which bumped the battery pack for my front light off its holder and into the front wheel – breaking 2 spokes! We’d only done 3km!!!! I’d left Ian, my husband, tucked up in bed sound asleep so it was with some hesitation (I lie!) that I called him and asked him to bring the front wheel off the Audax bike out to me. Steve and I slowly rode up to McDonalds at Dorchester (open 24/7) and waited – warm and dry. Ian was extremely good humoured considering he had been dragged from his bed at 06:05 to bring the wheel out to me.
We were underway again just before 07:00 and headed west through a very flooded Frome valley to Wareham and onwards down to Poole. It gradually became light and it stopped raining. All good. We took the route along the overcliff, passing the point of the last breakdown. With the benefit of a strong tailwind we were in the cafe at Hengitsbury Head by 09:30. Steve opted for a huge plate of breakfast and I managed an egg sandwich. The wind was bitterly cold but the sun was now shining brightly.
The westerly wind pushed us along to Lymington and then we headed north and west. As we emerged onto the open roads in the New Forest the full force of the Force 6 wind hit us. The remaining 120 km was going to be hard work, but at least there were two of us to share the work. The fords through the New Forest were running. We walked around the deepest one but rode through the others.
The sun was shining brightly and we stopped for a breather just before Burley to admire the ponies with their long winter coats.
Steve’s drive train had been washed clean of oil and was quite noisy so we were pleased that the bike shop in Burley was open.
The staff in the shop have helped us out a few times and even let us fill up our drink bottles from their kitchen tap. They stock all the essentials and have a very fine track pump too!
Onwards into the relentless wind to Crow through Ringwood and up to Fordingbridge. The garage at Fordingbridge has a well stocked shop and we stopped briefly for more fuel before heading down to Verwood. The skies had clouded over, the wind increased, and it began to rain heavily! I was glad of the extra layers I’d put on as with the extra wind-chill and being wet I was only just warm enough. We passed the site of the broken chain breakdown on the first attempt of this ride and headed down to Horton. Gradually it stopped raining and the skies brightened again.
Horton Tower is a folly and would have fallen down by now if Vodafone had not restored it in return for being allowed to use it for their masts. The road of course went up and over the hill the tower is on with open views to Cranborne Chase. There were a lot of snowdrops in the verges and even some early daffodils.
It seemed a long 5 miles to Wimborne. We could see that the River Stour had spread itself far and wide so I left the Garmin route to stay on the higher B3082 rather than the lane along the valley through Pamphill and Cowgrove. As we turned down towards Sturminster Marshall to cross the Stour we came across a diversion as the road was closed.
We later discovered that White Mill Bridge is damaged by flood water and completely closed. So we followed the diversion through flooded filthy lanes to Shapwick.
As the Garmin was now off route Steve consulted the map to decide our onward route.
We crossed the Stour at Spetisbury
and took the B3075 – going through a couple of deep floods to join the A31.
This diversion meant that the control at Sturminster Marshall had been missed, even though we had ridden further. I hope that Tony the Audax DIY SW organiser will be understanding and be able to validate the route.
I wouldn’t choose to cycle on the A31 as it is a fast busy road but after a couple of kilometres at Winterbourne Zelston we took the B3075 and soon the Garmin triumphantly informed me ‘Course Found!’ We were soaked by another heavy shower but rewarded with a pretty rainbow.
We crossed the A35 near Bloxworth and crossed the Piddle valley at Chamberlaynes Farm. An enquiry from Steve as to how far it was to Wool alerted me to a near bonking situation behind me so we were relieved that once we had ground up the hill at Stoke Heath it was downhill into Wool and thankfully the chip shop had just opened at 16:00. Perfect timing.
All that remained was a fairly flat 30 km to the finish at Winterborne Abbas. Suitably fortified Steve found new energy and I was able to sit behind him while he happily forged his way into the relentless westerly wind. As it became dark a quietness descended and the world closed in. Our last few miles through the Winterbornes (Came, Monkton and St Martin) were most enjoyable – some of the best!
The final distance was 212.7 kilometres with 1755 metres of elevation. This is about as flat as it gets in Dorset!